Aric Almirola staves off retirement, returns to Stewart-Haas Racing on multiyear deal

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Aric Almirola announced his return to Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Ford on Friday, reversing course on retirement plans with a multiyear deal that includes an extension for primary sponsor Smithfield Foods.

Almirola indicated that he would be back in a Friday press conference at Daytona International Speedway, site of Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (10 a.m. ET, CNBC, Peacock, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM). He’s one of several drivers who will make a late bid for a spot in the Cup Series Playoffs in Daytona’s annual 400-miler.

Almirola had announced Jan. 10 that he would end his full-time career in the Cup Series at season’s end. He is in his 11th full season of Cup Series competition and his fifth with Stewart-Haas Racing.

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Friday’s announcement confirmed the 38-year-old driver will be back for 2023 and beyond, and the team indicated that Almirola has found ways this season to achieve a better work-life balance on the circuit, spending more time with his wife, Janice, and his children Alex and Abby.

“Our family dynamic has changed. Things have changed and it just feels right,” Almirola said. “It feels like a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to continue to do what I love to do, and I think I made that very clear when I announced that I was gonna retire and that I wasn’t retiring because I didn’t enjoy racing anymore, I was retiring because I was willing to make a sacrifice for my family because, ultimately, my family is the most important thing to me. Winning races and making money and all of those things, I was willing to make that sacrifice to make sure I was being the husband I needed to be and the father I needed to be, and through this year Janice and I just found a wonderful balance to where I still can be the husband that I want to be and the father that I want to be and we did some really cool stuff this year.

“I forgot just what a wonderful opportunity it is to be a race car driver. Not only do I get to do what I love to do, but we get to travel around the country and go to all sorts of different cities, so we took that opportunity this year. “

The extension with Smithfield continues one of the longest-running partnerships in the Cup Series garage. The Virginia-based food company first connected with the driver in 2012 during his tenure with Richard Petty Motorsports, and that relationship continued when Almirola moved to the No. 10 Ford in 2018.

“I think that’s one thing, for me, that has been just a huge blessing personally and professionally,” Almirola said. “Smithfield has been the primary sponsor on my race car my entire Cup career and so to continue to have their support and their backing is just an awesome feeling to be their guy and to be wanted.”

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Almirola is a three-time winner in the NASCAR Cup Series, with his first victory scored at Daytona for the Petty organization and the rest coming during his time with SHR. His most recent triumph came in July 2021 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

This season, Almirola ranks 18th in the Cup Series standings, and he will need to win Sunday to reach the 16-driver postseason grid. His immediate future with playoff eligibility is uncertain, but his long-term future is secure.

“All of us at SHR are very happy to have Aric back in our Smithfield Ford Mustang,” said team co-owner Tony Stewart. “I’ve always admired Aric because he’s always working to better himself, to find a better way. This year is proof of that. We’re in a tough sport, in terms of the competition and in terms of the commitment it takes to compete at this level. Even with all that, Aric has found a way to compete and enjoy life. That sounds simple, but achieving it is hard, yet Aric makes it look simple. It’s one of his many attributes, and it’s one of the many reasons why he’s such a good fit for Smithfield and for us. I’m proud of him and proud to extend our partnership with Smithfield.”